Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday Gaming

I haven't been up to Matt G's place in months, almost certainly since November and perhaps as long ago as October (I write this in February). So it was that I determined to make it to Matt's Tuesday gaming session even though the local news was having a hissy fit about the possibility of the dreaded "Black Ice" possibly covering our roads. 

I'm pretty sure the temperature didn't drop below 38F the whole evening. 

Also attending with me were the ubiquitous Matt, the entertaining Dave, the lovely Rita, and the erudite KC. On the table were The Three Commandments and Red November.

The Three Commandments is much less a Euro than a rather elaborate and very random party game. One player takes the role of the High Priestess (and there were points in this game when being a literally "high" priestess would have made things more entertaining), and is dealt four cards, two from a Red deck and two from a Green deck. The Red cards all state a condition that can be met by the placement or movement of various colored pieces on a game board (I won't go into tremendous detail here, as it really isn't important at all), while the Green cards state conditions that have more to do with general behavior, up to and including "cursing". 

The priestess takes two of the four cards and places them hidden to one side of them, the third card to the other side, and discards the fourth card out of the game. The first two cards are things that the other players will gain points for if they fulfill them during their turn, while the third card will lose them points.

For example, on my first turn, I had two red cards that I put on the "plus" side, one of which gave points if you picked up a piece on the board from one of the triangle areas, the other gave points for each white piece in the center. My negative green card took away points if people acted "macho". I forget what the other green card said. 

Each player in turn then moves one piece on the board from one area to another. Then the priestess puts markers in front of the cards (all hidden until the round is over, which consists of three times around the table) that the player met the conditions of, and tells them their score if they got more than zero points (or that they failed if they got zero or less). If four people in a row fail, the priestess loses and the other players all score 20 points. If not, then after everyone has had three opportunities to move pieces you add up their scores and the priestess gets the same number of points as the person who scored the most in that round. Everyone gets to be the priestess once, and frankly that was just about enough.

It's not that the game wasn't fun. If you know what the various Green cards have on them for behavior (ask permission to take your turn, stand up, hop around in a circle on one leg) there's great incentive to behave in a silly fashion, which in this group seemed to be pretty easy to do. However, despite the fact that I won over Dave by three points, I *never* guessed a single thing on a single card through the entire game. Not once. I had guesses, but they were always completely off. 

And that's really the downfall of this game. Oh sure, it's cute and funny and with the proper inhalants and opiates it could be a real hoot. But there's almost no chance of correctly guessing what it is you're supposed to be doing, at least as far as I could tell, even if you *do* know what all the cards say on them. There just isn't enough time, and no real incentive for you to limit your Green actions to try to narrow things down as it will just help your opponents. 

I'd play it as a midnight game at a con (maybe) or at a gaming retreat (for sure), but it's not going anywhere *near* the To Buy list. 

For our second game of Wacky Game Night, we pulled out Red November, a game I taught (and learned) at Lorna's EGG gathering earlier in the month. I liked the game, and saw how there would be some good strategies for survival, which I tried to impress on the others. We used the Not As Deadly Dying variant, as well as the secret house rule that you could fix a timed disaster as you passed it if there were people behind you on the track (the real rule is that you fail if you do this, but it's too hard for beginners and besides, I wanted a win). 

There are two areas of ambiguity in the rules, of which I think I've come up with my personal preferences. First is that at the end of your turn, it's not at all clear if your Time Token goes on the top of any stack of other players' tokens or on the bottom. The rules seem to lean ever so slightly toward the "top" theory, although I believe that's just incidental, and I think I prefer the "bottom" theory now having played the "top" twice. 

That all sounds so dirty. But it's not, this is a family game. A family game where you are encouraged, nay, required to drink grog on a regular basis. And make regular "faint" checks, which should really be "pass out" checks. This is clearly a game that should be popular on college campuses, right after playing the "high" priestess.

Back to the game. The second rule that's ambiguous is exactly when you "pass" the timed destruction markers. Is it when you land on it? Or when you go "past" it? There are pages and pages of forums with people vociferously debating this point on the 'Geek, all of whom clearly have no lives. Me, I go with the "on is not a pass" camp, solely because anything that makes this game easier is something I'm all for. 

Like most groups playing for the first time (and you should almost certainly have someone who knows the game pretty well the first time you play, as while the rules are complete aside from the above issues, they are a bit difficult to find things in, in no small part because of the nearly unreadable font used for section headers that looks like it was devised by drunk Slavic gnomes, which to be fair is the case), it's a good idea to take every blocked hatch and flooded room very seriously, and go after the various rising pressure/heat/asphyxiation levels in a no-nonsense and diligent manner. I went after the grog pretty early on, while others went for the toys, but it didn't take long before we were up to our elbows in troubles. 

The biggest problem that began to dog us later in the game was a) fainting gnomes (I managed to do this *twice*, dying the second time when my room flooded or caught fire or was invaded by rabid badgers, I was too drunk to remember), b) high pressure and asphyxiation levels, and of course c) the dreaded Timed Disasters. Things went really wrong when Matt and Dave got trapped together in the nose of the sub with no way out because of the fires, and no one was able to help them escape - I was passed out, Matt had gone out to fight the Kraken (and died when he had no way to get back in the sub as fire and/or water was in all of the compartments, and while he could have used an action to Abandon Comrades the rules were pretty clear that you got exactly One Action while you were using the Aqualung, my friend), and KC and Rita didn't have any way to put out the fires, much less stop the Timed missile launch, which of course was the thing that killed us. It's always the missile launch.

On the plus side, I actually made it to 0 time before dying (thanks to the faintage), and everyone else was inside of 10 minutes left when we all blew up. I suppose that's better than dying of CO2 poisoning, or being crushed like fine Italian sardines in a can, or burning to death. Actually, I *did* burn to death. Ow. 

As KC said, there's a lot more to this game that appears at first. I don't think it's as brutal as Ghost Stories (which is unforgiving in it's unwillingness to let you even feel like you're getting a handle on it) and it feels like you can do more in your turn without a lot more downtime than in a micro-action game like Shadows over Camelot. And, of course, as with any coop game, it's a good idea to play with people who are entertaining and think you yourself are funny. This is my current favorite "true" coop game, with Bstar-G holding on as my favorite semi-coop game (and favorite overall, despite the length - it's just so frakkin' well put together). 

Thanks to Matt for hosting, and to everyone else (Matt included) for being exactly the kind of people that I want to play these kinds of games with. I'll burn to death on a gnomish submarine with you dudes anytime.

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